California voters will decide this November whether to abolish the nation's largest death row by replacing capital punishment with life in prison without possibility of parole.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office announced Monday that supporters of the SAFE California Act of 2012 had submitted enough petition signatures to qualify their measure for November's ballot.
"It's a proposition whose time has come," measure proponent Jeanne Woodford told reporters on a conference call Monday morning, noting even those who led the death penalty's 1978 reinstatement now see it as "a colossal failure."
Woodford, a former San Quentin State Prison warden who oversaw four executions but is now executive director of the anti-capital punishment group Death Penalty Focus, cited a recent study that found the death penalty costs California about $184 million a year in special housing and security, legal resources and other costs for the condemned.
The measure would create a SAFE California Fund that redirects budget savings of $100 million over three years into the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.
The measure needed 504,760 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify; campaign consultant Steve Smith said more than 5,000 volunteers gathered and submitted more than 800,000 signatures across all 58 counties.
Connecticut state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, carried a successful bill -- now awaiting his governor's signature -- to convert that state's death penalty to life without possibility of parole. On Monday's conference call, he said California should follow the example.
"More and more people realize that... the promise to victims is hollow and the promise to taxpayers is hollow," he said.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, had carried a bill to the same effect last year but yanked it from consideration because there wasn't enough support in the Legislature. Groups including Crime Victims United of California and the California District Attorneys Association opposed that bill, and are likely to oppose this measure as well.